73 years ago began one of the strangest stories of the end of the Second World War. Mar del Plata witnessed the surrender of U-530 and U-977.
The early morning of July 10, 1945, was cold and foggy in front of the port of Mar del Plata. The small wooden fishing boats began to come out lazily from their moorings when a reddish and dishevelled mass suddenly appeared in front of them.
The fishermen, astonished, soon noticed that the hull of that strange submarine had little in common with the Argentines who had their base in that same port. The helmet was completely covered with rust; in the turret, the vestiges of what had once been a layer of paint could hardly be distinguished. The motors seemed to have difficulty working, but the nearly eighty-meter-long mass was slowly heading towards the port entrance.
The unsuspecting sentinels of the naval base could barely give credit to those who saw. “German submersible, we wish to surrender”, began transmitting in Morse code through the reflectors.
Thus began one of the strangest stories of the end of World War II; a story that for many continues immersed in the same mist that enveloped the port of Mar del Plata seventy-three years ago.
The war was over a little over two months ago. Before the insistent rumours, the allied military leaders had assured that there were no longer any German ships of this type without surrendering. All of Hitler’s submersibles, they claimed, had been surrendered or sunk by their own crews.
No wonder, then, that the unexpected arrival of the U-530 caused a huge stir in the world: What was the ship doing thousands of miles from its last area of operations on the east coast of the US? Who had landed clandestinely before surrendering? Had a Nazi hierarchy escaped on board? Had the U-530 sunk the Brazilian cruiser Bahia, mysteriously lost on July 4, 1945, off the north coast of the South American country?
Although Argentina was at war with Germany since March, German sailors were treated with extreme gentility. They were outrageously young and many of them were seriously affected by the long period without consuming fresh food.
Lieutenant Otto Wermuth, barely 24 years old, who had not been particularly prominent in the war, was the commanding officer of the submersible of type IX C. Little and nothing could be extracted from the interrogations.
The submarine was old and in such conditions that war operations were almost impossible. Hardly remains the mystery of the lack of the main raft; it had no armament (just a faulty torpedo) or documentation on board, everything had been discarded before delivery.
The most astute military allies knew almost immediately that the U-530 could not have sunk the cruiser “Bahia” just six days before. I had arrived in Mar del Plata with the tanks almost empty of fuel.
As of that moment, an uncontainable wave of sightings of furtive submarines was unleashed along the long Argentine coast; from the mouth of the Rio de la Plata to the Strait of Magellan, each coastal town has, today, its small history of German submarines. The vast majority of them are part of a myth, but a small part must be seriously evaluated.
PSYCHOSIS OF SIGHTINGS
The epicentre of that “sighting psychosis” was, at first, located in the small coastal town of San Clemente del Tuyú. The Argentine Armed Forces moved huge amounts of soldiers and units: warships, airplanes, submersibles and even large numbers of local police were deployed along the coast during the month of July 1945.
The log of the torpedo “Mendoza” , even reminds us that at the end of that month, in the Gulf of San Matías, it was sighted, detected with the hydrophones and attacked with depth charges an unknown submarine.
The state was of permanent tension. The correspondents of the most important newspapers had moved to the Mar del Pata naval base, awaiting new news; on the occasion of the multiple sightings, it had been installed in the press that, at any moment, other German ships would be delivered to an Argentine port.
On August 17, 1945, that story that seemed impossible to some, became a reality: U-977, commanded by the young Lieutenant Heinz SchŠffer, also appeared in the port of Mar del Plata. The commotion multiplied and the accusations of mysterious secret missions rose to the stratosphere.
The ship of SchŠffer, of type VII C, also of long history and little grandiloquence, was in better conditions than the U-530, but with the periscope seriously damaged and without armament. Unlike Wermuth, SchŠffer was talkative and quite fanciful, something that little helped to clarify the facts, already confusing.
Years later he would write a memoir in which he would invent missions, sinking merchant allied ships, a rank of officer he never showed and a sixty-six-day trip submerged that had little contact with the true story.
Anyway, we must recognize that in that book, published in the fifties, SchŠffer could have vaguely explained the reason that led them, both him and Wermuth, to undertake such a journey.
Goebbels’s propaganda had taken its toll on the young Germans, who believed that the Allies were going to turn Germany into an agricultural plain and that prisoners of war would be treated savagely, among many other apocalyptic prophecies that were never fulfilled.
The country was sunk in the underworld, and the prospect of surrendering to a country that considered itself “friend”, having the means to do so, seemed irresistible.
The rumour that other submarines, besides the U-530 and the U-977 arrived at our coasts is disturbing. Rumours, some documents, such as the “Mendoza” logbook, ancient and modern witnesses and even descendants of divers, admitted to Argentina under dubious circumstances, have survived to this day. It was said that helmets of one or two German submarines lie in the desolate waters of the coasts of Rio Negro, in a certain desert cove. However, nothing has appeared; for now, they are just part of the national folklore, a disturbing legend with some vestiges of truthfulness. But beware, it would not be the first time that fiction surpasses reality.
Source: La Prensa